Halfway through "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women," Valerie Young quotes Margaret Thatcher. As the first woman to lead a major Western democracy, the former British prime minister is arguably the most successful female politician of all time. In speaking of her brilliant career, the Iron Lady, as usual, does not mince words: "I wasn't lucky," she said. "I deserved it."
Baroness Thatcher's remark is one of the few sensible statements in this well-meaning but silly book about the crippling self-doubts that supposedly plague women who excel in their careers. The word "secret" in the book's title refers to the author's thesis that successful women privately feel like frauds.
Are you a working woman? If so, according to Ms. Young, chances are that you suffer from a malady known as the "imposter syndrome." Sufferers "have a persistent belief in their lack of intelligence, skills, or competence," Ms. Young explains. "They are convinced that other people's praise and recognition of their accomplishments is undeserved, chalking up their achievements to chance, charm, connections and other external factors."
These pitiful women lack the confidence to recognize their own abilities, Ms. Young declares. Rather, she says, they explain away their successes. They were "lucky" to get that promotion. Or they were "in the right place at the right time." Or they "had a lot of help." Bosses, colleagues or others who speak highly of their work are only "being nice." Or even, "they felt sorry for me."
If you think you're immune to the imposter syndrome, think again. Ms. Young cites a study claiming that 70% of successful people have experienced the imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. While men can suffer from it, she says, it is more common among women. She notes another study that says the imposter syndrome usually strikes women who make it in male-dominated industries. Nurses, teachers and women in other pink-collar fields are safe. "The places where women are most apt to feel incompetent and illegitimate are in the public spheres of power and authority," she writes. In other words, blame the patriarchy.